Friday, December 9, 2011
Final Word: NFC South
By Pat Yasinskas
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:
New territory. It’s been pretty obvious coach Sean Payton has taken the Saints to a new level since arriving in 2006. That Lombardi Trophy from the 2009 season is tangible proof. But here’s another sign that success is here to stay. If the Saints win Sunday at Tennessee, they’ll have three consecutive 10-win seasons. That’s never happened in franchise history. The Saints previously had back-to-back winning seasons in 1987 and ’88 and 1991 and ’92.
Mark Ingram and the Saints have shown the kind of rushing attack that could be a factor in cold weather.
Dome team? Sunday will be the last time the Saints play outdoors this season. They’re 6-0 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but only 2-2 in away games in outdoor stadiums. Keep that stat in mind, because I’ve got a feeling it could be a talking point if the Saints have to go to San Francisco or Green Bay in the postseason. One thing to keep in mind as we start looking ahead: As much as people like to talk about New Orleans' passing game, I think the Saints also have the ingredients for the kind of running game that could come in handy in a bad-weather game.
Defense has been offensive. The Bucs go against a rookie quarterback for the second straight week. Cam Newton’s inexperience didn’t exactly help the Tampa Bay defense last week as the Panthers scored 38 points. Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert hasn’t put up Newton-like numbers, so this might be a chance for Tampa Bay’s defense to stop a very bad slide. The Bucs have given up at least 350 yards of offense in each of their past nine games. They’re allowing 393.8 yards per game, which ranks No. 30 in the league. The Bucs also have a chance to break their franchise record for average yards allowed per game over the course of the season. That was set by the 1986 squad, which allowed 395.8 yards per game.
Bouncing back. In one way, the Falcons' loss to Houston might be a good thing. Atlanta is 4-0 following a loss this season. In fact, the Falcons haven’t had back-to-back losses since Weeks 13 and 14 of the 2009 season.
Bringing the heat. If you want a preview of what Atlanta’s defense might do against the Panthers, just find film of the Week 6 game these two played in Atlanta. Although Newton has done a nice job handling the blitz overall, he struggled with it against the Falcons. In the previous meeting, Newton completed only 37.5 percent of his passes and was intercepted three times when Atlanta sent five or more pass-rushers.